The Ripper: The disturbing Visceral Games project that never was

By Alex Riviello

A decade ago, at a community day for Dead Space, I stumbled upon an accidental scoop. I was checking in at the front desk of Electronic Arts’ Redwood Shores headquarters with a few marketing folks guiding me along. “Oh,” said the receptionist offhandedly, “are you here for The Ripper?”

I’ve never seen someone in marketing turn so white so fast. My guides stammered something to the receptionist to get him to shut up, and hustled me away from the desk. In the elevator going up to the studio, I couldn’t help but turn to them and ask what that was all about, and they pleaded with me not to mention anything. No one was supposed to know about this top-secret project, and they were terrified I would blab. I assume the receptionist got a good talking-to.

Later that night, over many drinks, I got some of the story out of people, under a promise to keep silent on the project until it was closer to release. As I guessed from the name, EA was working on a game about Jack the Ripper. You would play as The Ripper himself — a real-life serial killer — in a game that would be unthinkably bloody, brutal and controversial. Your victims would be modeled after the actual victims, and you would recreate the real murder scenes. But here’s the catch — in the game, Jack the Ripper was actually a hero, as his victims were vampires in disguise. I conceded that it was a clever twist, albeit one still certain to incite controversy, and I kept quiet about it. Every once in a while, I’d ping someone from the team asking if it was time to talk about the project, until years later, news of The Ripper finally leaked. It had been canceled.

The video game industry is built on the graves of failed projects, and it’s an ill-kept secret that big studios often dump millions of dollars into games that never see the light of day. They are abandoned and hidden behind contracts, never to be talked about again.

Dozens of people across multiple EA studios worked on The Ripper (sometimes also simply known as Ripper) for more than three years, from 2008 to 2011, when it was finally canceled. At the end, they were 95 percent finished with the game, but EA determined it was less costly to drop it than to market and release it. EA hasn’t ever officially confirmed Ripper’s existence, but thanks to interviews with multiple people with knowledge of the project — all speaking anonymously to protect their careers — we can now tell its story.

The Ripper - Jack the Ripper slicing an enemy in half at the torso
The Ripper’s twist saw its main character fighting vampires.
Electronic Arts

Making a murderer

It all began, innocuously enough, at a sushi restaurant in San Carlos, California. Sources say it was a regular spot for a team of designers from EA — developers who considered this a rare moment at the company, a time when they were given the freedom to explore anything they wanted. EA Redwood Shores was coming off a stream of financial (if not critical) successes such as MySims and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, and had formed teams to generate and pitch new game ideas. Dead Space was a year away from changing the entire look of the studio. A Jason Bourne concept was floating around, as was another Blade Runner game. Filmmaker Zack Snyder had just signed a three-game deal with EA. The future seemed wide open.

Perhaps it was this atmosphere of creativity that led to what was about to happen in the Japanese restaurant. Or maybe it was just the sake.

Over plates of sushi, team members began discussing a game they were considering pitching that used the cel-shaded engine from The Simpsons Game, which had just been a modest hit for the studio. They knew this would be a hard sell, however, as the office was starting to evolve into the Visceral Games brand and shift toward hardcore games like sci-fi shooter Dead Space. Perhaps that’s what caused a developer at the restaurant to blurt out, “I always wanted to make a Jack the Ripper game.”

The group approved of the idea, but noted that it had been done before. The developers began rattling off a list of games where you play as Sherlock Holmes while trying to solve the Ripper murders, when the developer silenced them. “No, no, no. I wanted to do a game where you play Jack the Ripper.”

The group got really quiet.

“You can’t do that!” was the general consensus. It was too controversial, too sick; no one would ever greenlight it. Then the developer dropped the twist. What if the character that you’re playing is certifiably or potentially insane, and sees the prostitutes he butchered as creatures? What if he thinks he’s saving London from this scourge of vampires? Or what if there really are vampires, and the whole Jack the Ripper mythology was another group’s attempt to cover up the fact that vampires are real, that they’re living beneath the very streets of London in the catacombs?

That stopped everyone once again. They hadn’t worked on any antihero games at EA and saw the potential. What if Jack the Ripper was a tormented soul who was misunderstood all along?

A whirlwind of blades

After getting back to the studio, the team got to work on the concept right away. The developers saw what Assassin’s Creed had just done with creating a believable alternate history based on real-life people and events, and felt they could do the same. (This was years before Assassin’s Creed Syndicate would touch on a similar time period and Ubisoft would make its own story add-on featuring the Ripper.) They mapped out the world and the characters, bringing aboard concept artists to give life to the idea.

Those artists crafted piles of illustrations to find the mood of the place, a shadowy, dirty London in 1888. The team devoured books on Jack the Ripper, and looked at everything from Gangs of New York to Batman: Gotham by Gaslight for inspiration. Seeing the work being done on Dead Space, the team members felt that they knew how to create the perfect atmosphere, and Victorian-era London offered a world laden with gaslight lamps trying to cut through the fog and shine over cobblestone streets. It was Bloodborne before Bloodborne.

The team brought on Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber, brothers and screenwriters who went on to work on films like Red and Whiteout, to add to the story. Together the screenwriters and creative developers tried to figure out how to turn the real facts from history on their head and fit them into their narrative.

Beyond the mostly accurate surface world, the developers decided they also wanted to feature London’s underground catacombs, which may be less well-known than their Parisian counterparts, but could serve as a suitable lair for the vampires. London was so filthy and the clouds were so covered in soot from the factories that visitors often described the city as being in sort of a perpetual dusk, allowing the team to lean into the idea that the vampires would find it an inviting place.

The Ripper - character concept for Jack the Ripper
Concept art for The Ripper showed an emphasis on blood, fitting in with the plans for an edgy Visceral Games brand.
Electronic Arts

The team members read books such as The Great Stink of London, which details the rough conditions of the sewers that routinely backed up into the city, causing an immense public health issue. The city was also dealing with a massive influx of undocumented immigrants and a rapidly increasing poor population, two at-risk groups of people that vampires could pick off as they pleased.

Since the Ripper team needed a group to be responsible for covering up the horrible reality, they brought in the Freemasons as the people who had been fighting against the vampire scourge. The game would go into the roots of the Masonic order and demonstrate how this had been a secret centurieslong battle, dating all the way back from biblical Stonemason days. After all, the real group was a collection of people with a trade they wanted to protect so that the masses couldn’t emulate their work, so why not add stalking vampires to their list of skills?

The lore grew from there. Other historical figures appeared as Freemasons, such as Nikola Tesla, lending his electrical know-how to the fight. Law enforcement officers who actively sought the Ripper, such as Frederick Abberline, were made into major players, foils for your antihero.

As for Jack himself, he would not have been named as a real-life person. There are dozens of theories as to the murderer’s real identity, but the developers didn’t want to go with any of them, and instead created a fictional character named Jack. Many didn’t see an issue with using the real names of the murder victims, however. The agreement within the team was that if they could not develop an experience that was respectful of the history and the victims involved, then they wouldn’t do it.

“In no way were we trying to sully the history of these victims and the families associated with them and all that; we wanted to be very respectful,” says a developer on the project, though he admits they knew the controversy it was courting. According to him, the team had full executive support for the idea; in fact, higher-ups liked the idea of a game that created consternation among those who thought it lacked taste. A game that didn’t play it safe would create more conversation than one that did.

That’s not to say that everyone agreed with the concept. “I was not a fan of making a hero out of Jack the Ripper,” says another team member. “While we had an interesting concept for the character, I felt that possibly celebrating a person that had actually killed innocent people who had families and loved ones in the real world was a bridge too far.”

Others were much more on board. “We certainly had those conversations where we asked if it’s wrong to do like this,” says someone with ties to the game. “But we thought this could be done in a very interesting way that gets people talking and makes for a great video game story at the level of a Hollywood production and [doesn’t] offend anyone. We certainly felt we were on that path.”

We are all the Ripper

The story came in fast and furious, and things started fitting together quickly. Multiple team members speaking for this story say that they’d never seen a project pick up steam so quickly. They reused some tech from other games to craft a prototype that represented their gameplay ideas better than the eerie concept art. They practiced a number of internal pitches to tighten up their presentation, and then showed their work to John Riccitiello, the CEO of EA at the time, and Frank Gibeau, then the president of the EA Games label. The executives greenlit it immediately following the pitch.

The original budget was $25 million — not top dollar for a high-end game by 2018 standards but on the scale of Dead Space, which was a cornerstone of the studio that had recently been rebranded as Visceral Games. Ripper and other games would all fall under this brand. The Ripper project expanded quickly, going from four developers to 20 within a week. Together they worked to create a third-person action/adventure game in the God of War vein, but with more emphasis on story and character.

From the start, EA pictured Ripper as a franchise launch. Think of Dead Space and the comic books, animated films and merchandise that it spawned. There was a Ripper movie that was being negotiated with screenwriters and a director. Trademarks were registered for both the game and movie.

Thoughts of sequels led to the team looking at popular conspiracy theories about Jack the Ripper, such as one that holds that the reason the killings stopped is because he relocated, possibly to Chicago. Was it possible that H.H. Holmes, the man who is considered America’s first serial killer and whose life was detailed in Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City, was actually Jack the Ripper? The timelines match, and the developers took note of that for a potential sequel location, imagining the antihero traveling across the ocean to fight the vampire scourge in the U.S.

The Ripper - concept art of the story taking place in Jack the Ripper’s head
Key art for The Ripper showed how much of the game’s story took place in the main character’s head.
Electronic Arts

There are other examples in history tied to Jack the Ripper rumors, and the team realized that there was the potential to go forward and backward in time. Since the vampires had been around from the beginning of humanity, there was no reason that your Ripper character was the one and only vampire hunter, or even the first one. Much like the Assassin’s Creed series created ties to all kinds of events throughout history, you could have this series play out with multiple generations of Rippers. The team explored that idea for a time, too.

But of course, it had to release a single game first, and just getting to the finish line started becoming a problem. While the core group worked on Ripper for five to six months, building up a team and fleshing out the world, Visceral’s priorities shifted to other, more pressing games. The studio moved lead developers around to various high-priority projects, including Dead Space 2 and Dante’s Inferno, and brought on new team members.

“Moving priorities back and forth so frequently sometimes does stuff to the core soul of a project,” says a team member who moved from game to game himself. “If leadership gets moved out of that to focus on other things, then you have new people in charge and new creative ownership; it tends to take things in a different direction.” The Ripper project began to change, and the developers heard that some executives were starting to get frustrated with the team’s progress.

The initial pitch described Ripper as a single-player experience featuring melee combat with some light ranged options. Rather than creating a new game engine for this, however, Visceral reused the Dead Space engine to save time and money. This ended up flipping the game into a shooter with some light melee elements. The nuance and surreal horror of Jack slipping into insanity started to become more focused on shocking players with over-the-top blood and gore. Developers who were shuffled off the game early on returned to it months later, only to be surprised by what it had become. The original high-concept design document described Ripper as the start of a new genre called “game noir.” This was to be moody and gothic, not bloody and violent.

Visceral established sister studios in Montreal and Quebec City, Quebec, as well as Melbourne, Australia, shortly after EA Redwood Shores’ rebranding. The Ripper team took advantage of these new divisions of the company, and put Visceral Montreal on the project to help out. The Canadian team had worked on Dead Space and knew the engine, so the producers tasked the team with doing art and a lot of the programming. They then brought on EA Shanghai to create art assets. Although it’s now a common practice in the game industry, it was somewhat experimental at the time to have developers in so many time zones working on a game simultaneously.

EA wanted to clamp down on the amount of spending and make sure it wasn’t wasting money, according to Ripper team members. To combat the problem of the project being an unknown franchise, the company brainstormed a way to let the world know about it, and maybe make some money along the way. The solution was a downloadable game called Chapter Zero that would work as a prequel and give players a concept of the world to come.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Capcom did something similar with Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, offering a bite-sized chunk of Dead Rising 2’s world with its own prequel story and marketing for $5. Case Zero was a financial success — at least, ignoring the possible impact it had on the full game’s eventual sales — and some at EA felt the publisher could follow suit with a similar teaser for The Ripper. Ripper: Chapter Zero would focus on Jack’s time in the Bedlam asylum, showing his initial descent into madness and setting up a world for the player to explore and fight through.

The soul remains insane

In Ripper: Chapter Zero, you would play through Jack’s backstory, which the full game would only briefly touch on. In a bit of a cliche, the reason Jack descends into insanity is because vampires killed his family, leaving him in the infamous psychiatric hospital. The real-life Bedlam (also known as the Bethlem Royal Hospital) was a delightful place where “doctors” routinely tortured, starved and chained up patients. The building was kept open so that patients could roam around the local neighborhood as they pleased. Fortunately for the developers on the Ripper team, a sewer under the hospital regularly blocked and overflowed, spilling all manner of waste — medical or otherwise — into the entrance of the hospital, making for good cover for vampires.

In the game, Jack is tortured at Bedlam and suffers PTSD as a result, and his rage only makes him question his reality even more. After leaving the hospital, he takes to the streets and sees these creatures everywhere, leaving Jack with the constant question of what is real. Are you really killing vampires? Are these actually innocent people? As you’d go through the game, most of the enemies you’d kill would have been vampires that would turn to dust à la Blade — a handy mechanic that team members said not only looked great, but also worked well for engine optimization, as it wiped the bodies from memory.

A favorite demo of the team featured Jack running down a hallway at night with light streaming in from the windows. Looking down the hall, the player would see dark spaces and light spaces. As they ran, the hallway model transitioned to a different one that made it look like it was the side of the building, and then Jack started falling. So you would be completely disoriented as you were suddenly falling down the side of the building in a smooth transition. As you got closer to the ground, the world would again transform, and you would find out you were still in your sanitarium cell.

Surreal moments like these were juxtaposed with bloodier and more brutal sections, such as boss battles against five vampire queens. Unlike the regular vampires, these enemies wouldn’t just disappear when you killed them. After fighting a vampire queen, a world transformation effect would change the scene to suddenly show a human woman lying there dead, not a creature with pale skin and fangs. The Jack the Ripper myth would begin here in Chapter Zero. These women were named after the killer’s real victims, and in the game, their mutilated bodies would have been used by the Freemasons to further their agenda of keeping things hushed up.

It was all designed to make players have a feeling of dread, and wonder what they had done. They would question the character’s sanity, but they would then be reassured by the Freemasons that their work was just, that they were doing the right thing. The designers wanted players to have lots of questions about what they were really experiencing.

There were arguments over how the game would end, whether it would tell you one way or the other what you had been doing. Ultimately, the game’s producers decided it would most likely leave you questioning what really happened. If this seems familiar, it’s because Dead Space 2 relied on many of the same themes. Dead Space 2 also went on to receive a lot of multiplayer code from Ripper, which is ironic, as some people suggest that the multiplayer component of the game is what led to its downfall.

The Ripper - concept art of a steam train in an indoor station
The team planned for The Ripper to span a wide variety of locations, including Stonehenge, Big Ben and a train station.
Electronic Arts

Wait, multiplayer?

The Ripper was designed as a single-player game, a plan that came about at an inopportune time.

“2008 was the last year you could just greenlight a new single-player experience without having balls of steel,” says a former team member.

The designers briefly wondered if they should cut up The Ripper into episodes, but saw that as a massive risk. If the first episodes didn’t exceed expectations, the company might immediately consider the game a loss.

There was also the problem of used games. A single-player title was in danger of immediately being flipped to GameStop and put back on the shelf for five bucks under the retail price, undercutting the publisher. In the days before downloadable content and season passes, many companies believed that the primary way to combat sales of used games was to add multiplayer modes. At the time, dozens of titles had multiplayer elements shoehorned in. Games like The Darkness and Spec Ops: The Line featured half-baked multiplayer components in a strained effort to keep gamers spinning the discs rather than reselling them.

The Ripper faced this same issue. The fear led to EA executives demanding that Visceral add a multiplayer mode.

“I think that was the start of it losing its soul,” says a team member. “There was a point where I was like, ‘I don’t care about the baby anymore.’ Part of you does, but it’s safer not to.”

“It’s hard to do [a single-player game] unless the game is thought of [that way] from the get-go, from a design sense,” says a developer who saw the transformation of The Ripper. “You can’t move the target halfway through, slap multiplayer on it and have it be good.”

Nearly everyone on the development team speaking for this story saw multiplayer as a bad direction for the game, but they shifted to work on the new vision nonetheless.

Visceral Melbourne started crafting the multiplayer mode. “We quickly realized that Jack the Ripper multiplayer couldn’t have Jack the Rippers going head-to-head somehow,” says a developer. “It never really felt like we could build this as a multiplayer experience out of the box.” So the team started playing with the concepts and realized that this might be an opportunity to let people play as vampires.

The multiplayer mode ended up allowing a player to choose one of three competing factions, each of which featured three classes.

First there were the Freemasons, who had already been fighting a centuries-old war against the vampires. They’d spent all this time trying to hide the vampires’ existence, so they had more technology to fight them. Nikola Tesla was supposedly a Freemason, so there were many electric guns based on his work. One of the classes wielded a kinetic gun that built up a charge as you moved, but started losing it as you stopped, forcing you to trade accuracy for power. Another class’ weapons dealt less damage but could shoot metal spikes that transmitted electricity, encouraging players to team up with someone who had the kinetic gun. Someone could lay down a series of spikes and have a teammate shoot one of them with an electric gun, and all the electricity would interconnect and make webs to capture people.

Then there were the Peelers, the nickname given to cops of the day, after Sir Robert Peel installed a professional police force for the first time. The policemen might not have had training in dealing with vampires, but what they didn’t have in technology, they had in brute force. They could jump higher and move faster than the Freemasons, with weapons that did supercharged damage. They had lots of explosions, lots of fast-firing bullets.

The vampires were a melee class, but they were themselves the ranged weapons, something akin to to Aliens vs. Predator. You didn’t need bullets — you were the bullets.

You could choose to play with three different vampires, each with a unique look and powers. One allowed you to see through walls by smelling the humans’ blood. You could scan and see the circulatory systems roaming around, glowing in the dark. Another character was called the Siren and could scream with pinpoint accuracy, essentially functioning as a sniper class. Their screams could hit enemies from range, just pop off their heads from 200 yards away. Since vampires could be easily shot by human foes, they would stick to the darkness, as well as climb ceilings and walls to sneak up on their prey.

Multiple types of matches were available, from the usual deathmatch and capture the flag options to a king-of-the-hill mode that let you become a superpowered Jack the Ripper. Anyone you killed was out of the match, but any team that managed to killed the Ripper would win. It was similar to the setup in the new Star Wars Battlefront games, where you can play as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker, becoming an unstoppable killing creature that provides a ton of points to anyone who can take you down.

Another mission was an escort one similar to Payload from Team Fortress 2 (or later, Control in Overwatch), except with a caravan of people you were trying to protect. If the vampires got to them, not only would the people get picked off, but whoever got killed would turn into another vampire, making it harder to keep the rest safe.

The Ripper - concept art of Jack the Ripper hiding around a corner
Concept art showed a stealth aspect to The Ripper.
Electronic Arts

Vampires, and junk

While the team nailed down the multiplayer, other internal battles raged. Two years into development, the single-player mode had migrated entirely to Visceral Montreal, after the staff at Redwood Shores moved over to the Dead Space and Dante’s Inferno teams. Ripper had been built on the tech powering Dead Space and other games, but there had long been pressure from EA executives to switch to DICE’s Frostbite engine. The industry perceived it as a stronger engine at the time, but despite many assessments on the feasibility of a switch, no one bit — until after a few team leadership changes. Mid-2010, the Ripper team finally switched engines, and new issues almost immediately sprung up.

Changing to Frostbite meant that the developers had to rework much of the game — character rigging, animations, controls, level art, scripting, game cameras, lighting and more. According to team members, there wasn’t enough Frostbite support staff to work with the Ripper team alongside the EA teams that already needed assistance. As a result, the game’s progress slowed down considerably as the team tried to get the game back to where it had been.

In late 2010, an infamous multiplayer demo shocked a lot of the marketing team with how unfinished it looked, while reminding the developers of the kind of content they were dealing with. The mechanics worked, but the newly redesigned Frostbite graphics weren’t anywhere near final, making The Ripper look more like an Xbox title than the Xbox 360 game it was, according to multiple sources. To counter the unimpressive appearance of the game, the developers also demoed art tests that looked far more cutting-edge, depicting how the game would eventually look in the new engine. But something else seemed off.

“I looked at the vampire model and was like, ‘What is wrong with this?’” says someone who sat in on the demo. “And I realized that it had a giant testicle sack and a huge penis. He was like one of those naked, ugly vampire gargoyles that look more bat than human. This was around the time of Dante’s Inferno, in which Satan has a huge penis, and I was like, ‘What is with this studio and giving monsters giant cocks?’”

One of the presenters mentioned that they were going to reduce the size of the vampire’s genitals, but many in the marketing department were left wondering how they were going to deal with this game.

Undeath

Things started looking worse for The Ripper as the ever-shifting development team tried to figure out what to do with the Frankenstein’s monster of game design that had been created. Visceral constantly reshuffled and refocused studios, the marketing team kept trying to figure out what to do with the shifting vision of the game, and the switch to Frostbite ate up a lot of time and money.

Eventually, EA executives decided that Ripper was no longer feasible. To salvage what they could of the game, the developers would carve out the multiplayer component and make it its own product. This new game became Blood Dust, an online-only, downloadable multiplayer experience. It was a far cry from the single-player retail game it spawned from. The original nine classes and nearly 100 weapons would make it, but the setting wouldn’t.

Blood Dust was set in Dust Bowl-era California. The factions stayed the same mechanically, but the team altered their look to fit the new location. The vampires became the Carnies, a traveling group that had been mutated due to overuse of a drug called Blood Dust. The Freemason became a force called The Black Chamber, which worked as a 1930s version of the Men in Black. Finally, the Peelers became Dusters, a group of refugees and World War I veterans from the Dust Bowl who believed everyone was out to get them.

The above footage leaked online in 2011, containing a mix of Ripper and Blood Dust art.

This was in 2011, when EA was doing everything it could to figure out how to keep discs in people’s homes, going so far as to include single-use online codes with retail games to gate access to multiplayer modes. The Blood Dust team struggled with whether the game would have a physical release at all. In the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 era, downloadable games were a thing, but they were not yet big enough to be the sole source of sales of most games. It’s hard to imagine now, but bandwidth and storage issues prevented many people from downloading games. While Xbox Live Arcade was making money, EA didn’t want to rely on it. Digital sales usually amounted to hundreds of thousands of units, not millions like a hit might reach today — the level that’s necessary for an investment like this one.

But even though the new team refined Blood Dust and brought it together, it wasn’t to be. EA decided to pull the plug on the game a few months from the finish line and shut down Visceral Melbourne entirely. After the closing of the studio in September 2011, the team leaked information about the cancellation of Blood Dust, which was also the last gasp of what remained of Ripper — the final nail in the coffin, if you would.

“EA decided they didn’t want to take the risk of putting an Xbox Live game out with all the costs of marketing and running the servers for the multiplayer,” says a team member. “It was deemed more costly to ship it than to kill it, even though the game was, like, 95 percent done. They were right about the math, but I still conjecture that a game like that could still have success.”

No one speaking for this story blames any one person for shuttering the project, with multiple people instead claiming that it was the victim of corporate priorities. If a project isn’t in the right place at the right time, it can fall victim to pressure to either kill it or make it a huge success, and if it’s not the latter then you have to shut it down, they say.

“There are a lot of games that some companies just don’t talk about,” says a longtime team member. “When they start them up, they don’t want to announce them too soon, and when they kill them, they say, ‘Well, I’m glad we didn’t announce the game.’ It saves face, and also, when you’re a publicly traded company, you want to make sure that you are not needlessly wasting company resources and time.”

Around the same time, EA cut another another Visceral game that was never publicly revealed: the sequel to its action game Dante’s Inferno. Titled Purgatorio, the sequel had a finished script and a team in place. It had a new climbing mechanic, since Purgatorio is the mountain of purgatory that the player had to ascend, rather than Dante descending through the nine circles of hell in the previous game. Climbing was necessary to reach the top, which is where the entrance to the Garden of Eden and the gates of heaven were located.

The developers wanted Purgatorio to be an action adventure game that featured smooth climbing mechanics that could compete on the level of Tomb Raider and Uncharted. The team had concept art and a playable chapter of the game finished. But it too was killed after disappointing sales of Dante’s Inferno.

Every designer speaking for this story has horror stories of projects that were close to being greenlit before something happened, and the studio decided to bank on another game instead.

“Know what they always tell budding game designers?” an EA vet asks with a laugh. “If you want to make your opus, don’t do it at EA. Because it’s not going to happen. You’re going to have to do that on your own. It’s their money.”

EA is not the exception, of course. Every major publisher is regularly doing R&D, and spending money and resources that end up going nowhere. A quickly greenlit project can be canceled just as fast depending on changes in business plans or leadership.

The Ripper - concept art of Jack the Ripper in shadow
The team at Visceral decided against naming its main character after one of the real-life Jack the Ripper suspects, keeping a sense of mystery around the character.
Electronic Arts

Ripping into the future

Even all of these years later, many of the people involved with Ripper sound wistful about that era.

“It was totally fun while it was going on; it was super exciting,” says one. “It was definitely one of those rare moments in the game industry where you’re like, ‘This is what it’s supposed to be!’ And it’s a lot harder than everyone thinks. It’s not a quick montage; it’s a lot of work.”

It’s a lot of money, too. Four studios in four countries. Multiple teams of programmers, art directors, creative directors and executive producers, over multiple years. Two key team members estimate that EA spent around $20 million on The Ripper over the years it was in development.

Some wish that they would still get a chance to work on a Jack the Ripper title, even while acknowledging that many of the things that seemed so innovative and edgy about the Ripper concept have been done by other games at this point. So many people enjoyed this time of their lives, when EA was looking for new intellectual property and letting its designers experiment with out-of-the-box ideas. But it’s hard not to feel jealous when you see other games do what you had thought up years earlier, and do it successfully.

Games like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and The Order: 1886 have played with fantasy-laden alternate history, leaving the former Ripper developers to live vicariously through the games that actually made it out, always wondering what could have been. But perhaps they lucked out. Dante’s Inferno similarly pushed the envelope with regard to controversial material, with EA’s marketing department infamously hiring a group of actors to protest the game’s content at E3 2009. Sales of the game failed to reach 1 million units, quashing another supposed franchise launch.

It’s perhaps fitting that The Ripper disappeared much like its namesake did, never to be identified or seen again. It’s this mystery that compels us toward his story and the atrocities he committed, leaving us to wonder just what kind of person could be responsible for such a thing. The Ripper sunk back into the fog this time, but the myth lives on.